Ten Reasons Why Homework Is a Bad Idea
No doubt I will take some flak for the ideas presented in this article. No, I am not a teacher, but I have dealt with a lot of teachers in my day.
Of course, I am a teacher in many senses of the word: I've taught my children how to speak and other early-childhood lessons; I've taught Girl Scout workshops to both kids and adults; and I've taught various skills to several persons at various times.
I know my position is unpopular with many people; by the same token, there are many others who will agree with me.
1. An Idea Not Well Thought Through
Depending upon the school in question, children can be subjected to homework as early as kindergarten, and certainly this burden has been imposed on every child by the third grade.
At the elementary school level especially, this is a bad idea because:
- Young children are known for having a very short attention span.
- They struggle to sit still for extended periods.
- They get only 2 short recess breaks and lunch at school.
- They become very restless by the end of the school day.
By the time school is out, the kids just want to go home, relax, and be a kid ! It is the rare child who enjoys homework, and whose parents do not wage battles of one degree or another over the subject.
Typically, the child will arrive home, have a snack, possibly a short play break, and then be sat down to do their homework.
I doubt there are many parents who will not agree that this can be a traumatic time. The child has already been exercising his or her brain all day at school. They need time to digest the material, not do busy work at home.
2. Homework Is Busy Work
Busy work, you say? Yes, that is exactly what homework is. Especially the sort of homework that involves copying out questions already printed in the textbook.
This is a waste of time, paper, and face it, a cause of frustration, extra tiredness and sloppy penmanship. Little hands tire and cramp up easily.
If you regard school as a child's "job," and compare to jobs held by adults, you will soon realize that there are not very many jobs that require the employees to take work home and continue to work on their own time.
The teaching profession is one of the exceptions, but they can reduce or eliminate their own "homework" load by not assigning homework to their students ! Look at all the extra paperwork and 'correcting' that would eliminate!
3. An Exercise in Frustration
There is another even more practical reason for eliminating homework. The common argument in favor is that the homework is intended to reinforce the day's lessons.
That's a nice theory, but it is something of a straw man defense. If the lesson was presented well, and the student understood it, they will remember it. Class time should be allotted for practice.
If the lesson was not understood, then what happens at homework time? The student is lost, has no idea of the concept, and will practice and reinforce errors instead.
Now, extra time and work must be done to reverse this problem, the student will have suffered wasted time, some degree of mental trauma in having his/her work red-penciled, and depending upon their personality, a possible blow to their self-esteem.
I hear the response to this suggestion already! "Well, that's what the teacher is there for! The student should ask if he does not understand!" In principle, yes, that is true. But there are extenuating circumstances.
Homework Causes Frustration
4. Why Not Ask the Teacher For Help?
- The student is very shy, and does not wish to ask questions in class, for fear of ridicule by classmates and appearing "stupid" in the eyes of his peers.
- In the above case, some students may elect to wait until after class to ask the teacher in private--but this is not always possible. For example, their parent may have told them to be home by a certain time, or is waiting for them in the pick-up queue--a common scenario these days.
- For whatever reason, real or imagined, the student may feel a personality clash with that teacher, and feel that she is not liked by the teacher, engendering an atmosphere of mistrust or fear.
- The student may not actually be aware that he did not understand the lesson. He may think he understands, but in fact, may have missed some salient point, or misinterpreted something the teacher said. So, believing that he understands, sees no need to ask for clarification.
- The child may not be a native speaker, and does not have the language skills to grasp the lesson sufficiently for independent work.
- For any number of reasons, parents may be either unavailable or unable to assist their child with the lessons.
- There are also a few teachers out there who should seek a different line of work!
Some People Just Should Not Be Teachers!
In the fourth grade, I had one such horrible teacher. He had zero patience, and held the opinion that asking questions meant you had not paid attention.
His "answer" to any student's legitimate question was to severely scold that child, including slamming and breaking pointers and rulers across the student's desk.
The fellow's face would get beet red, he'd be yelling at the top of his voice, and the entire class was intimidated. I coped by trying very hard to be invisible.
That was a crucial year for learning the foundations for advanced math later on; fractions, percents, long division, etc. Thanks to this teacher, I failed to master any of it, and to this day, I struggle with math.
Stacks of Books to Lug Home Can be Overwhelming
5. Parental Help?
Another nice idea, freely tossed about, is that parents should help their children with the homework.
This is a nice theory, but parents, especially today, often are both working, and the evenings are chaotic with all the tasks related to running the household, getting dinner, and getting kids to bed on time. Since they have worked all day, they are tired. Asking them to sit (and often do battle) with the kids to get the homework done is an added stress they do not need.
Besides, they've already "done their time" in school, paid their dues. Parents are the first teachers their children have, when it comes to learning to talk, tie their shoes and brush their teeth. When it comes time for schooling, however, the majority send the little moppets off to school.
Of course parents should, offer any help requested about lessons the child has studied in school, and be supportive of learning in general as a lifelong process. But help with actual homework? No. There are simply too many opportunities for strife and too few for positive ends.
Homeschooling families are still a small fraction of the educational experience. As I often said when I was going through this battle with my own children, "I send them to school to learn. I'm not a teacher--I don't have the temperament for it. If I had wanted to be a teacher, I'd have gotten a teaching credential and/or homeschooled the kids!"
Typical Classrooms May Not Be a Good Fit For All Kids
6. Teaching Methods Keep Changing
Additionally, many parents have no idea of today's teaching methods. Just look at the so-called "new math" craze that was being taught in the 1970's and 1980's. Most of us had no clue what in the world this was about--it was a totally foreign concept of how to teach. Many parents I knew could not decipher this strange new way of complicating simple addition and subtraction. It was not only my particular math deficit--other parents not so "mathematically challenged" as I had similar difficulties.
I recently saw a page of math my granddaughter had been assigned. It had my head spinning. It seems there is now a new craze out there, in which countless additional and unnecessary steps are added to simple addition problems.
This is foolishness of the highest order. It not only wastes time and creates frustration and more of a learning gap with students and parents, but it also presents multiple opportunities for mistakes to be made.
Each additional step added is a place for a potential error.
My point being, teaching methods keep changing, and we parents and grandparents, many years since out of school, have not had reason (not being teachers ourselves) to keep abreast of the latest educational fads and theories. This makes helping the current generation difficult at best, and fuels the fires of frustration on both sides.
Result: Resentment and Failure to Retain Information
I hated homework when I was a child, and I vividly recall many battles with my poor mother over the issue. I even have an accidentally self-inflicted tattoo on my leg (when in a fit of angst over one of those fourth-grade math problems) I flung my freshly sharpened pencil to the floor.
Unfortunately, it never made it to the floor, and stuck into my leg instead. Lesson learned: don't throw temper tantrums. Lesson not learned : how to do the math problems! To this day, some sixty years later, (see photo below) I still bear the mark!
Wrong Lesson Learned; Extreme Close-Up of My Leg!
To Do Homework or Not to Do Homework?
I hated homework to the point that it made me hate school. Raised in a somewhat more strict household than many of today's kids, I was 'terrified' of getting a failing grade, so I did not totally slack off.
However, I developed the attitude of "If a "C" is passing, why bust my tail for anything higher?"
When my own children came along, I was very torn between insisting that they do their homework, and the fact that I did not support the concept in any way.
To attempt to take a "devil's advocate" position, I offer studies on the other side of the coin. One such set of arguments can be found at the 'Teachnology' site. They also follow with arguments supporting my premise.
This article in Newsweek also claims in its title that homework is a good thing. However, read through to the end, and we find that the studies are actually inconclusive.
Flipping the Lessons Around Works!
7. Needless Struggles
I have seen my elder grandson struggle with getting it done. He and my daughter have waged battles royale over the topic. He's not a dummy--in fact, he's very smart, and figures out a lot on his own. Without ever having taken advanced math (perhaps elementary algebra), he went online and found trigonometric formulas, understood them, and applied them in designing model rockets for his hobby.
This same boy is now studying Gaelic online, on his own time, and learning this ancient language--just for fun! Imagine where this could take him!
All of this tells me that his refusal to do his homework to the point of getting bumped out of 'regular' school into continuation school meant that he was bored with it. He was one of those who understood in class, and did not see the point of wasting his "off time" with more of the same.
A reading assignment can be done in class--it need not be sent home. What is wrong with a quiet reading time in school? The teacher can use this time to do some of her required paperwork, thus lessening or eliminating her own "homework" burden! Perhaps, to eliminate homework, one more hour might need to be added to the school day. So what? The payoff would be of far greater benefit than the ritual of homework.
When my eldest granddaughter was in third grade, she battled her mother (my other daughter), over the same thing. She dawdled, got distracted, took breaks, made excuses, goofed off, squirmed, and generally took over 2 hours to do half an hour's worth of work.
Why? Because she had already sat still all day long in class! She was tired and wanted to play and recharge her batteries! I did not fault her at all.
8. Effect on the Grades
The reason for my grandson's lackluster performance and dismissal from 'regular' high school was almost exclusively due to failure to turn in homework assignments. Sometimes, he'd even do them..and just not turn them in.
His brother followed the same path; ending up in continuation school, and not because he is stupid, but because he was overwhelmed. Learning responsibility? He was very conscientious in his summer jobs.
If homework is, as is claimed, supposed to be a reinforcement or practice, then it really should not have any bearing on the student's grade. Whether or not the lessons have been learned can and should be fully obvious by means of test results at mid-term and finals. Classwork, attitude, attention and participation in addition to those aforementioned test scores should be more than sufficient to assess progress.
Homework has an effect on grades, however, because the teachers for the most part, grade homework, and fail to see an "F" as an opportunity to re-explain difficult concepts.
- Homework, if given at all, should never be graded.
- The teacher should view the results as a learning experience for themselves, as to how well they presented the material.
- Any student who consistently fails to turn in the homework should be evaluated for either additional help or advanced placement.
- Penalizing the student by an "F" or 'zero' grade for not doing the homework, or doing it poorly, is a blow to the self-esteem.
(I have long held the opinion that a teacher who hands out a lot of failing grades is, in effect, grading their own competence as a teacher.)
Naturally, there are those few students who are just plain lazy, don't want to learn, and act out for whatever reasons unrelated to school. I am not referring to those kids, but to the average students whose behavior in school is generally good, and who make an honest effort.
My grandsons were not alone. The very fact that continuation schools exist proves the point that many children simply cannot cope with the demands of homework or other aspects of regular school. Both boys are currently in the military, and doing very well in their careers!
9. Students With Problems
As we see more and more "mainstreaming" of students with various severe problems, either mental or physical, we come to yet another group for which homework may prove just too exhausting or frustrating.
A child with ADD, for example, is going to have a very tough time trying to accomplish homework after having had to be in school all day.
A child with a physical disability, who may have motor control issues, is going to find homework more challenging than it should be.
Homework Frustration and Grumpiness
10. Learning Should Be Fun!
In closing, there should be no reason for any child to hate school. Nearly any topic can be made into a fun experience. When kids are enjoying themselves, they are relaxed, and the information sticks with them.
Writing assignments should be only class-length. How many of you were assigned, almost every year, as I was, a returning-to-school essay of "What I Did This Summer." ?
Quite a few, I'll wager. The problem with that was, not all kids 'did' anything. Many families could not afford vacations, so with the exception of not going to school all summer, the child did nothing out of the ordinary, and teachers probably had many, many boring papers to read and correct.
Hmmm... how to fix this problem? Add two more words to the topic: "What I Wish I Did This Summer." Voila! Watch the creative juices flow, and budding writers emerge!
- Use a family history exploration as a jumping-off point for general history lessons.
- Figure out batting averages for baseball to help with percentages.
- Help bake cookies or cakes to learn fractions.
- Use games like "" to boost learning parts of speech. Mad Libs
- Encourage journaling for writing practice.
When my kids were in school, there was a push for reading, and the program was called "Reading is Fundamental." Those of us in the parents' group designed a flyer emphasizing the "FUN" part of the final word.
I'll take it a step further, and say, Learning Is Fun! If it is not, there is a problem with the method(s) being used.
Go have fun!
A study by renowned Stanford University shows many pitfalls to the overemphasis on homework.
Another study on Healthline details negative effects on both health and learning, of excess homework by time and grade level.
This article in Time online explores both sides, with one conclusion being that 'correlation is not the same as causation.'
Khan Academy is one source for online, independent learning outside of regular school.
Questions & Answers
Why do we still do homework?
Primarily, homework is still around because it's an entrenched concept that's been around for centuries. The longer anything has been around a certain way, the more difficult it is to create change.
I am reminded of the story of a young bride, whose husband asked why she was cutting the end from a roast before cooking. Her reply was, "Well, that's how my mother always did it." So, they called up the mom, and asked; she had the same exact response as her daughter.
Her grandma was still living, so they all asked her. Grandma said, " Because that's the only way it could fit into the pan I had!"
So, even at the personal level, old habits die hard. At the level of national public institutions, multiply that factor exponentially!
© 2010 Liz Elias